The Leadership Skills Gap


Jim Collins, in his book “From Good to Great,” says when it comes to leadership, it is critical to “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off of the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

The dilemma is this: It is getting harder to find the “right people.” So, therefore, if you can’t find good leaders, you have to train them.

More and more organizations are complaining about a growing leadership skills gap. As the Baby Boomer generation draws near retirement, there are fewer people available with the necessary skills and supervisory ability to replace their more experienced counterparts. Possibly, some of this hubris was recognized in our most recent job satisfaction survey, where respondents rated one out of every two supervisors either average or poor.

Tell me how a business is going to stay competitive with scores like that?

We all know leadership ability is the lynchpin to organizational success. Leadership skills cannot be outsourced, nor can they be bought. Leadership skills have to be nurtured and developed.

Those organizations that provide an organized leadership development program do better. Their ratings on communication, retention, customer satisfaction and overall job satisfaction are much higher than those who don’t.

Consider Baptist Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. They were listed in Fortune magazine’s “Top 100 Best Places to Work for in America.” They are also a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner. As part of their development process, all managers are required to attend their Leadership Institute equipping them with processes and management skills. This leadership development program impacts the bottom line by reducing turnover and raising job satisfaction.

Consider these accomplishments:

  • For the past several years, patient surveys of staff sensitivity, attitude, concern and overall cheerfulness of hospital staff all have been near the 99th percentile.
  • The employee turnover rate improved at BHI from 27 percent in 1997 to 13.9 percent in 2003.
  • BHI staff report positive morale has risen from 47 percent in 1996 to 84 percent in 2001.

Leadership provides purpose, direction

Just like the poem, “Three Blind Mice,” many businesses don’t know what true leadership is all about. A person sent me the following comment: “I’m still struggling with the lack of ‘alleged’ leadership traits in many executives. How do they achieve executive positions? Why don’t they seek out training to develop/enhance their leadership skills? Why do they assume that their subordinates need training but they don’t?”

What actually is the essence of leadership? How can we teach executives to think strategically, to plan, to envision and to leave operational decisions to managers? Any thoughts?”

Sad to say, but I hear this comment far too often. Sounds like this person is working for someone who needs a few lessons on leadership. True leadership is about taking people to a place they wouldn’t go to by themselves. Good leaders don’t merely supervise; they create a sense of purpose and direction for those they lead. I believe that some people have a natural ability to lead, have a passion, a burning desire to make a difference. Those are the people I want to work for.

A strong company is one that has leaders spread all across the company, not just at the top. The business world today needs both good leaders and good managers. However, because of the rapid change occurring in industry today, a company needs far more leaders, not more managers.

Time after time, businesses put the wrong person in charge. Unintentionally they reward a “don’t rock the boat” mentality. Conformity and status quo are the first steps leading down the staircase of a business disaster. This is partly the reason Sears, Zayres, IBM and Howard Johnson’s got in trouble. A major part of being a good leader is making people uncomfortable – uncomfortable with conformity that is.

All of us in leadership positions need to evaluate our actions. Are you providing a positive example for others to follow? Are you leading or managing? Are you effective at what you do? Maybe it’s time for a self-assessment? Zig Ziglar says, “A checkup from the neck up.”

Take these leadership action steps to create more effective leaders in your company:

  • Give your ego a break and ask your people, “What should I stop doing? What should I keep doing? What do I need to start doing?” Ask them frequently, “What can I do to make your job better, easier or more productive?” Then do it.
  • Good is no longer good enough. Be always on the lookout to improve, change and renew everything the business does.
  • Give people direction and purpose. Be able to tell people how their job individually impacts the overall company mission.
  • Make it part of the company culture to put managers and staff in the field to work with frontline workers multiple days/hours all year long.
  • Reduce unnecessary regulations and policies. Paint a mailbox red and centrally place it for people to deposit all dumb rules and regulations needing revision or elimination. Form a team to evaluate each nomination. Celebrate with a bonfire burning the policies and procedures no longer needed.
  • If you haven’t already, start a system of education and training for everyone in the business.
  • A leader is a teacher. As a leader, you should be teaching some of your own classes.
  • Be willing to admit your mistakes.
  • Be quick to deal with individuals who are poisoning the attitudes and performance of others.
  • Allow your workers the ability to reward each other’s performances. Peer pressure is a terrific tool to create the behavior you need for success.
  • Conduct frequent, informal recognition/award celebrations for workers.
  • Give employees permission to disagree with management.
  • Instead of only having the “Best Employee of the Month/Year,” recognize individuals for different reasons.
  • Periodically challenge your people with Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Generate some friendly competition between departments.
  • Have your team establish guiding principles to help them take initiative and stay on course.
  • Take your people off-site and visit other business establishments to get new ideas. Then reward them for implementing those ideas. Have contests for the best idea of the month.
  • Don’t be afraid to have your staff evaluate your performance. Use a 360-degree evaluation instrument to get feedback.

This article is from the 2015 Green Industry Guide. Read the rest of the digital edition here. You can find products, brands, companies and dealers in the industry on the main homepage here.